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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Isenberg development may oust bowlers

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Len Carman rolled for the pins Wednesday at University Bowl-O-Drome. The property, home to a bowling alley since 1955, now belongs to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which plans to lease it out for development.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The bowling alley on Isenberg Street street has already survived longer than it was supposed to.

Two years ago, it was widely believed that the historic, 24-lane facility was gone for good when the longtime owners closed the place on New Year's Eve 1999.

Today, as University Bowl-O-Drome, the business is alive and well in its Mo'ili'ili location. From bustling beginnings in 1955 when it was built next to the old Honolulu Stadium, today it is one of only seven civilian bowling alleys on O'ahu. The neighborhood is mostly residential now and the pace is slower, and though the bowling alley expects to be around for many months yet, its days may finally be numbered.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands took over the 2-acre property in 1995 as part of a land-use settlement with the state and will publish a legal notice next week seeking proposals to build a commercial complex at the site. Groundbreaking could come as early as a year from now.

Manny Nova, income property branch manager for the department, said there are many potential uses for the property but it will be up to developers to come up with the ideas.

"We are going to request that when the applicants submit their proposals they mention how they are going to blend in with the existing park and community," Nova said. "We want a commercial property that is sensitive to the immediate neighborhood."

The developer will be required to pay about $41 a square foot to lease the 82,500-square-foot lot. A lease of up to 65 years will be available.

Nova said the price is a bargain compared with the $90-a-square-foot asking price for the "super block" site between Sheridan and Ke'eaumoku streets where Kmart plans to build.

"It is a fairly conservative amount that will give a lot of leeway for the financial number crunchers to come up with a project that will make sense," Nova said of the Mo'ili'ili location.

Typically, the department develops residential areas for people of Hawaiian ancestry, but housing is not being considered for the site, which has been used commercially for more than 45 years.

The old stadium was torn down in 1976. The alley was refurbished and renamed the University Bowl-O-Drome when the current operator took over in May 2000.

KN Hawai'i Inc. now leases it on a month-to-month basis.

Sam Cluney, one of the alley's operators, said it has advantages for customers because it is centrally located, with plenty of parking. Many league bowlers moved to other alleys in 1999, which has left open lanes for other players, he said. High school teams practice at the site, and the operators have come up with creative ways to draw younger customers, including cosmic bowling which uses special effects, lights and music to create a nightclub atmosphere.

Cluney said he hopes the development plans don't scare off his customers and he can keep his 18 employees working.

"We would like to stay here a couple more years," Cluney said. "We've become part of the community."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.